RALEIGH – School buses are now wireless hotspots for remote learning.

Starting this week, more than 280 buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi to bring internet access to students living in communities without it.

With no end in sight for the coronavirus crisis, K-12 public schools will continues remote learning through the end of the year.

“In many communities, school buses are already delivering meals to students and their families. Now they’re delivering Wi-Fi for online learning,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement.

The initiative is also getting a boost from the private sector.

AT&T and Google are providing up to 100 Wi-Fi hot spots each, and the Duke Energy Foundation is offering up to 80. North Carolina Business Committee on Education, or NCBCE, also is part of the effort.

In fact, two years ago Google teamed with Caldwell County (where it operates a huge data center) to launch a similar effort involving buses.

Google launches ‘Rolling Study Halls’ to attack digital divide – an idea born in NC (+ video)

“Google was excited to work with Caldwell County leaders to turn our Rolling Studies Hall program into Rolling Hotspots, and we are thrilled to now team with NCBCE’s remote learning task force to expand the program as part of a collective effort to make it possible for more students to engage in school work during the stay-home period,” said Lilyn Hester. She is head of External Affairs in the Southeast for Google, who serves as vice chairwoman of NCBCE and Chairwoman of the NCBCE Remote Learning Working Group.

“Bridging the digital divide is a top priority for everyone, and we are grateful to North Carolina’s elected officials for helping to make these kinds of public-private partnerships possible.”

How it works is simple

Buses will travel to underserved areas in school districts and park in designated locations, such as a school nutrition meal distribution site or a grocery store.

Students can then drive up and use this temporary access to turn in assignments, download materials and connect with teachers.

Wi-Fi access is also available for all residents to connect to healthcare providers, apply for unemployment, and access other critical information and services while exercising appropriate social distancing precautions.

“We are deeply thankful to all the vendors and service providers who are stepping up to help our children and our communities,” said NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Tracy Doaks in a statement. “Their response ─ including offers for free or affordable service, without fees or penalties ─ is helping keep North Carolina connected during this critical time.”

Schools in Avery, Bertie, Bladen, Burke, Caswell, Chowan, Columbus, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gaston, Gates, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Johnston, Martin, Montgomery, Northampton, Perquimans, Person, Randolph (includes Asheboro City Schools), Robeson, Sampson (includes Clinton City Schools), Scotland, Tyrrell, Vance, Wayne, Warren and Yadkin counties will receive the first 156 Wi-Fi hotspots.

Outreach to other school systems to determine the location of additional hot spots is ongoing.

Additional information, including links for locations, a map of other public Wi-Fi drive-up locations, as well as a listing of free or low-cost options for internet service during the pandemic, can be found at this site.